Interview: Peter Lord and David Sproxton of Aardman Animations open about the future of animation and their legacy

There’s no doubt you’ve seen the work of Aardman Animations at some point in your lives. Some of you grew up with it, some of you are just discovering it now and some of you are sharing it with your own kids and reminiscing on the good old days. ACMI has done it once again; they have curated an exhibition of world-class proportion featuring the masterpieces of Peter Lord, David Sproxton and Nick Park. You’ll see all your favourite characters, how they came to life and the epic sets from your beloved films and TV series. It was such a thrill speaking to the founding creatives of this amazing company, where they explained where animation is going and the potential for Wallace and Gromit to be on stage again some day.

I can’t wipe the smile off my face. I’ve been walking around and it just gives me that warm feeling. What are your big fans going to learn about their favourite characters that they may not have already known?

Peter Lord: They’ll see their backgrounds; where the characters come from, I think that’s really interesting. They’ll see finished works, films, sets  but also some of the thinking, drawings and designs that have gone into making them. There are some really early pictures of Wallace and Gromit before they’d settled at all; when Wallace had a moustache and Gromit had teeth.

David Sproxton: It’s the thinking behind the films and the 101 ideas, 100 of which didn’t make the final cut, but you gotta go through that 101 to get that one.

Did you ever think clay stop motion would ever become redundant?

DS: Ahhhh no. All the computer stuff and CG stuff is always  snapping at your heels, and possibly a few years ago CG was in the ascendency, but what we see now with stop frame is actually a huge love for it, and more stop frame films being made now than ever before. There’s something about it that audiences love. People love making it, it’s a different thing, and it’s a massive resurgence in what is effectively a 1986 technology.

PL: When we started, it was very new technology to us, and we didn’t think it had great potential; kids TV was about the limit of our ambition. In fact, it’s been the other way around where we’ve discovered what it can do.

What did you enjoy watching growing up that sparked the creative thinking in you to create this legacy?

PL: We watched kids TV, both English and American – the two are very different. Animation is always eye-catching to kids. Then we saw the works of Ray Harryhausen he invented monsters and dinosaurs in live action films, he was brilliant and a superb technician. Although we never did his sorts of films, we were inspired by them and the craft.

DS: He created these fantasy worlds where all the CG and special FX stuff happened. He did it on small scale sets with models he’d made himself. When we saw the films we didn’t know how he made them but they took you to another world and there was something very exciting about that. I was always intrigued by the stop frame kids stuff we used to see like The Magic Round About and The Wombles. There’s something instinctive and magical about seeing dolls come to life; we always imagine they would when we were younger so I think that’s why stop frame has such an appeal; it’s very, very instinctive.

Where do you see animation going and developing in the future given the state of technological advancements?

PL: All over the place is the answer! The possibilities are so much greater now than when we first started especially with the Internet; anyone can publish their work which is amazing. There are so many more outlets and channels which is exciting, and the new technologies like virtual reality is very intriguing. Then there are games, movies; the opportunities for animation are just mind-boggling.

DS: I think it all comes down to stories and how engaging they are at using all these technologies. As we see with feature films, they’ve become more sophisticated; stories are richer, characters are stronger, the worlds they enter are just extraordinary, but behind it all is good and engaging storytelling.

I have to ask but is there ever going to be a live action Wallace & Gromit like a musical or on ice?!?! 

DS: [laughs] We did do a stage show about 15 years ago, it ran in London for about six weeks. It was attempt to see if we could translate it onto stage. We learnt a lot from that.

PL: We can do better than that now.

DS: Are you willing to back it? [laughs] If only Gromit could sing. Singing in the Rain wouldn’t that be great! He could tap dance! We could do ‘Puttin’ on the Ritz’, but which one would be Ginger Rogers that’s the question?!

My most favourite quote ever is “I don’t want to be a pie I don’t like gravy!” I always find a reason to say it. Is there a go-to film quote where you try and make it work in any context?

DS: There’s one Wallace says, “Oh that went as well as can be expected!” We use that quite a lot. It’s a classic.

PL: It’s a rather elaborate quote but in Chicken Run when everyone assumes the fowler is going to fly the plane at the end he says, “Oh grief I can’t fly this thing! The RAF don’t allow chickens behind the control of an aircraft.” I thought, that’s very true. It’s hard to get that into conversation though. [laughs]

In the 2005 fire you lost a lot, but out of what was saved, what are you most grateful to still have?

DS: The good news is that none of the original artwork was in that warehouse nor was Nick’s original rocket from Grand Day Out. The interesting thing though is the full scale flying machine from Chicken Run was in the warehouse, but somehow the one that is on display here had been rescued from a model maker’s skip and stored in someone else’s garage. I was chatting to this fellow three or four years ago now about something else and he goes, “By the way David, I think I’ve got a model of yours. There’s a flying machine in my garage.” And there it was. So the small scale one that is on display here has been sitting in someone’s garage for about a decade unbeknown to us! Thankfully  it’s in pretty good nick and it’s a lovely thing to see. We lost most of the Chicken Run sets and props, and that was a shame because what we learned was when it comes to your archive – duplicate and separate.

To what do you attest your success?

DS: Just sticking at it. Sheer persistence and an inability to do anything else.

PL: And a childlike nature. I think that’s quite important; playfulness. It’s not all laughing and giggling all day but this is a playful business and telling funny stories ought to be a playful business, and we remember that.

Wallace & Gromit and Friends: The Magic of Aardman is now showing at ACMi until October 29th. For tickets and more info, head here.

Photography Credit: Charlie Kinross